Megami Tensei II Playthrough — The Devil's Luck

The hero stabs a multi-headed demon in the eye.Source: Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei II Messiah Project 2036

Last updated: 2023-05-14
Author: Raindare

Hello, this is raindare.

I'm a big fan of Megami Tensei II, the legendary Famicom title that started the Shin Megami Tensei series. I'm a big enough fan, in fact, that I assembled a romhack for it that changes the gameplay, though not the story.

Given that I've gotten said romhack to a point where I'm satisfied with how it works, I figure I have a great opportunity to complete a screenshot playthrough of it right here on Juraku Bookstore.

As an added bonus, I'll be able to go through the game's original story and even discuss how its mechanics are intended to be, since the changes made by my hack are not so significant that they make the core gameplay unrecognizable.

If you're not interested in the nitty-gritty, feel free to skip the next screenshot.

Here are the terms of the playthrough:

  1. I will be playing through using Cathedral of Darkness 0.6, a romhack that changes what demons are available to the player and how fusion works.
  2. I will only be using EVIL demons in my party. In Megami Tensei II, demons have three alignments: GOOD, NEUTRAL, and EVIL. Normally, the player cannot make EVIL demons their allies at all, but in Cathedral of Darkness, this is no longer the case. There is at least one small exception to this rule, but I will still never use an EVIL demon in battle.
  3. I will invest all of my characters' stat points first into Luck, then into Agility. If I make it far enough with this build, which should happen around level 53, I can start investing in other stats.

The first two requirements go hand in hand, but the last requirement is obviously the odd one out.

One reason I'm doing it is to add a little extra challenge. The player can normally rely on the human characters to provide powerful attacks and magic. It's pretty optimal to only increase Intelligence on the secondary protagonists, and you can get away with only Strength on the main character too. By investing purely in secondary stats, I deprive myself of that option.

Another reason I'm doing it is because Luck is better than it's made out to be in many other MegaTen titles. In Nocturne, Luck virtually does nothing. Here, it actually affects HP (at a much lesser rate than Vitality), how fast you learn spells (at a much lesser rate than Intelligence), how easily you can flee battle, how often you get critical hits, and how often items drop. It genuinely is a well-rounded stat, even if it's not the best to increase.

The last is that I want to see if I can trigger a deathblow naturally. There are two types of critical hits in Megami Tensei: normal critical hits, and deathblows. Deathblows have a satisfying noise and send the target sprite flying halfway across the screen. The problem is, I don't remember ever seeing one in multiple playthroughs of the game. But if there were any way to get one, it would be by increasing my odds of critical hits as much as possible.

Let's get started.

Oh. Well, that's not a promising start.

Particularly in Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei, the Super Famicom remake I'm playing, the game makes a show of its contrast to the original Megami Tensei, which is a fairly peppy and staid dungeon crawler based only loosely on the horror novels by Aya Nishitani. In this game, your journey begins after the world has already ended.

In fact, it begins with you merely playing the role of a hero... in a game. That really sets the tone!

Our protagonists will be named after the main cast of Devil Children: Setsuna for the hero, Mirai for the heroine, and Nagahisa for the hero's best friend.

Here we can already start to see the first effects of having a lot of Luck, but no Vitality. The base hit point maximum for both characters is 6. With enough Vitality, we could double that. With just Luck on our side, it takes our starting points to go from 6 to 7. That's better than if our stat of choice was Agility, at least!

Our starting duo is Setsuna and Mirai. We allocate all 15 starting points to Luck for both of them; for Nagahisa, we don't get to do this.

By the way, that game we're playing? It happens to start with you in the village of Micon on the eighth floor of Daedalus Tower — a starting point intimately and completely familiar to anyone who's played the very first game.

So, the game gives you a nice amount of starting cash, if and only if you explore the starting area and find a chest containing 1000 macca and a Jewel. If you don't, you'll be armourless and weaponless, which is far worse than it already sounds for reasons I'll get into shortly. If you do, you can shop for weapons and armour.

There are multiple ways to spend the starting funds, favouring one character or the other, or offence or defence. In my case, I'm going to buy the best equipment available in two slots for Mirai: the Scimitar and High Leg Armor. Why I'm doing this will only be apparent much later.

As for Setsuna, he gets a Bronze Sword.

One of the many cutesy NPCs in the town mentions this mechanic: characters in the higher slots in your party are more likely to be attacked by the enemies. It's not as predictable as in the original Final Fantasy, but it's noticeable. Because Mirai actually has armour, it's better to have her in front.

Here's the basic way that damage works in Megami Tensei II: your attack power from your weapon is multiplied by your level, and that's your total damage. For demons, which don't use equipment, my understanding is that their "weapon" power is based on Strength and clan.

The way that armour works is by taking the total damage from the above formula, and dividing it by one's Defence. A character has a base Defence of 1, which provides no protection. In other words, having even a single piece of armour halves your damage taken compared to nudity. That's why Setsuna is in the back. As for demons, every demon has a different Defence value, not derived from a primary stat, but normally hidden from the player.

At the start of the game, fighting Green Slimes, even 5 Strength multiplied by the power of typical weapons is enough to kill them in one hit. But because we're not increasing Strength, as time goes on our attacks will scale poorly. We're going to have to work around that.

Other enemies in the starting region below the town include Will o' Wisps, Pixies, and Kobolds. Green Slimes and Will o' Wisps can't be negotiated with, which is a shame because they would be better than nothing in our party, and Green Slimes give pitiful experience.

At the start of the game, though, even pitiful experience is enough to reach level 2; Green Slimes give a base of 2 experience each, and the first level requires 10. The next requires a total of 40, though, and experience scales based on the difference in your human characters' levels and that of the foe, as well as the foe's clan.

The end result is that grinding becomes much, much, much less efficient if you're four levels or more above the demons in the area you're in. This is actually going to be very important soon.

For now, Mirai learned a new spell. She started the game with Dia and Mappara, which provide healing and an automap respectively. Mappara is of no use in Devil Busters' top-down perspective, but Dia is nice. Patra, which she just learned, heals most mild status effects.

Let's talk about learning spells for a moment: the formula for proficiency is the magic-wielding character's level, plus their Intelligence, plus their luck divided by 4, totaled and then divided by 6.

In other words, 24 Luck is enough to learn one more spell than you otherwise would. It's not a big difference, but Luck can often allow you to learn a spell a level or two earlier than you otherwise would. That's better than nothing, but much worse than Intelligence; if we maxed that out on Mirai, she would immediately learn five spells based on her stats alone.

The purpose of negotiation in MT2 is purely to recruit demons. It's not possible to ask a demon for macca or magnetite as it is in later games. That said, it can still be more reliable than attempting to fight or escape, though for us it generally won't be.

In this case, this is the first and only thing that happened when I tried to Talk to this Kobold, because it's higher level than I am. When you do that, there are a few possible outcomes: the demon will just leave, the demon will ask you to kowtow, or the demon will simply attack you for not knowing your place. Or, for female demons like Pixies, they might demand macca to let you go or immediately attack to "play with you for a bit."

In any case, your chances of escape are based on Luck, so if you have 5 Luck and run into a fight against tough, high-level demons, trying to talk is potentially your best option. Unless they're Evil, of course — we'll go into a bit more detail on that later.

When you actually manage to talk to a demon, you're given this menu. Persuade can be repeated as many times as you like, and seems to randomly increase or decrease the demon's disposition, then give you one of two messages (depending on the type of demon) to indicate how they feel now. Soothing gives you three options that can potentially improve your circumstances as well.

But most speedruns of the game simply immediately jump to offering a gift, and this isn't necessarily a bad idea, especially at the start of the game when your invisible Charm stat is going to be higher. When you offer a gift, the demon will ask for macca, magnetite, or a jewel, then will either leave, join, or ask for more.

In my case, this Pixie joined after being given a single pittance of Macca! I can't use her as a party member, mind you, but she still has two purposes. One is to avoid fights: if you have a Neutral demon in your party and talk to the same type of demon, they will leave and potentially give you an item.

One level later, and I'm able to negotiate with a Kobold as well. This one joins just as easily as the Pixie did.

With two demons in tow, I can now make use of them for the second of the two purposes recruitment has in this playthrough.

In making this hack, I first made a much more rudimentary modification to fusion than the one that exists now. After that, I tried to modify the Talk code, but to very little avail — it's a bit of a mess. So instead, to get Evil demons to work with, we must fuse together two Neutral demons we've recruited.

In normal Megami Tensei II, fusing these two demons together will create Brute Carbuncle, a demon we can recruit lower in Daedalus. In this playthrough, the same combination does not create Brutes. Instead, it creates...

Wilders. Just as Brute Carbuncle is the lowest-level Brute, derived from Pixie and Kobold's combined level, so too is Dead Lobster the lowest level Wilder. Unlike Carbuncle, we can't even meet this demon until a bit later, and also unlike Carbuncle, we can't recruit it either.

It'll be a nice addition to our team, with one problem: it's two levels higher than Carbuncle, and you can't fuse a demon of a higher level than yourself. So, to get our first demon, we're going to need to grind a bit.

In a normal playthrough of this hack, you'd just use Pixie and Kobold, then recruit a Carbuncle. In fact, if you had all three, you'd be able to use triple fusion (which isn't normally possible with Neutral demons) to make a pretty cool demon I'll show off later. You'd have tons of options beyond Dead Lobster here. But I don't, so off we go to the depths of Daedalus.